Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Author's Interview: In Conversation With Saiswaroopa Iyer

Today, I am in conversation with Saiswaroopa Iyer, author of two best-selling mythological fiction - Abhaya and Avishi. The most interesting thing about Saiswaroopa's writing is that she chooses lesser known protagonists for her stories - that's certainly a plus point for this genre.

So, let's talk! (And read her enriching and enlightening answers!).
Hello. Welcome to my blog. Please tell me and your readers about yourself and your writing journey.

Thank you Tarang :). I am an investment professional turned author. My first novel Abhaya started out as an exploration of Lord Krishna’s personality. He is my love since childhood (and probably in past and future lives too!). 

Growing up, I found that fascination turning into a drive to question, explore and I enjoyed the personal journey reading various interpretations about him and about Mahabharata. Same manifested in the form of a story. Abhaya explores the episode of Narakasura Vadha and that episode has a special place in my heart as it celebrates female valor and also raises a lot of relevant questions on gender parity. My book is an attempt to look at various interpretations from the perspective of a fictional character, Abhaya. 

My second novel Avishi explores the story of Queen Vishpala in Rig Veda who is one of the earliest known female warrior and the world’s first reference to prosthesis. I like my books to focus on lesser known episodes from our Vedas and Puranas. Expanding those episodes into full length novels sheds light on a lot of under explored aspects and gives us creative wings too.

Why did you choose mythological/historical fiction? Is writing in different genres on the cards? Apart from mythology, what’s your favourite genre?

Being the only child of my parents, both building their careers and doing their best to give me their best, I grew up listening to a lot of stories from our ancient history. Gods and historical personalities became my imaginary kin and kith since my toddler days (Confession: I still haven’t grown out of that habit!). I think the stories that manifest in my mind are basically their work. 

Apart from this genre, I like reading crime thrillers, romance and non-fiction. I am not sure whether I would write other genres because I love staying back in 2000 BCEs :D. But that said, I think it is important for me to challenge my own comfort zones and explore new shores as far as creativity is concerned. Let us see how things pan out. :)

Where do you get the inspiration from? Is there any book or author you find inspiring?

KM Munshi’s books and Kalki Krishna Murthi’s historical classics top the list as far as inspiration is concerned. I love their feisty female characters, the way they blend philosophical discussions, historical and social intrigues and keep the reader glued. That said, my inspiration is also highly internal. I need a character to come alive in my mind and compel me to write.

What are the challenges of writing mythology? How do balance facts and fiction in your stories?

The key to writing (or understanding) ancient literature is in understanding the macro aspects of the society and the choices our ancestors made. It is also about observing and understanding the legacy of poets and their motivations behind the varied interpretations of our Gods. Once we shed the lure of making opinionated conclusions and enjoy the process of study and enquiry, the creative liberty empowers us to explore interesting facets and aspects. An artificially motivated portion where the writer’s prejudices come in interferes with the readability. This is the reason why an involved reader would immediately feel alerted when a motivated paragraph makes its way into the writing. That said, reading, understanding, re-interpreting and writing this genre is a great journey. We grow a lot when we surrender to the characters and give them the lead to write their own stories.

What’s the importance of research in mythology?

Research is everything. But as someone who loves the genre, I don’t feel the fatigue of research and it often happens hand in hand with writing. The challenge is that some very good books which look deeply into the Vedic past are going out of print and we are left with a lot of politically motivated interpretations flooding. It is important to stick to scientific proofs and literary rigour and not to some colonial inspired invasion theories that took root in the 19th Century. 

For instance the so called scientific proof of the Aryan Invasion was just a bunch of 36 skeletons found in some excavations by some 19th century western historian with some very racist prejudices. I don’t know how our historians fell for that. Fortunately a lot of false assumptions are now being questioned and I hope scientific basis would be given preference and we shall discover our origins with more rigor. That would help our understanding and consequently fiction writing too.

What’s your pattern of writing? Do you plan before writing or just go with the flow?

Outlining helps me stay on track as well as pursue multiple story threads. When I begin a new project, I give myself the pleasure of ‘pantstering’ outtill I forge a ‘kinship’ with one or two of my characters. But after that, I spend some quality time outlining the story. My two level plot outlining has seen me past 3 manuscripts and I hope it keeps my productivity up during my future projects too.

Would you like to talk about your upcoming projects?

I am currently wrapping up my third work of fiction, a novella which is a sort of sequel to Abhaya but can be read as a standalone too. I want to explore shorter fiction for a while, something like the length of 20K-40K words pieces that can engage the digital readers more. Apart from that I am exploring the possibility of writing a historical series on the Eleventh Century Telugu King Raja Raja Narendra. But this would be a long term project as it would involve a lot of research and travel.

You are a successful self-published author. Would you suggest aspiring authors to self publish? Please share your experience & suggestions.

Self-Publishing is a great way to tell your stories to the world while circumventing a lot of ‘gate keepers’. To be honest, the traditional publishing industry experiences and operates through a lot of constraints we can’t even imagine. So I don’t understand a lot of this angry Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing rhetoric that happens. 

There are also some very illiterate prejudices around Self-Publishing and some people don’t consider it ‘mainstream’. But I can say with reasonable confidence that being a Self Published author has taught me a lot about the industry and market, right from setting expectations and goals to pursuing ways to achieve them. 

Going Traditional or Self is a decision one has to make after due thought. But if an aspiring author makes this decision, I have the below advice:

Hire professional editor and cover designer and be prepared for the costs involved. The output should not give a less professional feel. It is important to listen to the advice of a more experienced editor.

Spend some time trying to learn how Amazon works. It is still the biggest market place for Independent authors. Many people resort to immature ways to gaming Amazon algorithms. But it is important to understand that such ‘games’ would be easily found out and Amazon penalizes such books which show artificial spikes. I suggest the ‘boring’ route of writing more books, learning marketing techniques the conventional way and mastering Social media at our own pace. Two books I suggest the aspiring authors to read are Lets get Visible by David Gaughran and 10 Step Self Publishing Bootcamp by Susan Kaye Quin 

Don’t treat writing books as a short cut to fame. Be there for a longer haul. Learn and grow with each book.

Network with other authors, share your learning and be generous with your appreciation for their learning.

Thank you, Saiswaroopa! Pleasure having you on my blog. 

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